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Differing Muslim opinions on Charlie Hebdo Mohammed cover

January 14th, 2015
05:41 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

As Charlie Hebdo’s first issue since last week’s Paris attacks hit the newsstands in epic proportions, Muslims have reacted to the satirical magazine’s latest edition, which once again depicts the Prophet Mohammed on the cover.

The survivors issue features a teary Prophet declaring “All is forgiven” while holding a banner of the now-famous slogan “Je suis Charlie”. It sold out in France within hours.

“I think Charlie Hebdo could have put something else on the first cover, for example to condemn terrorism and to say that Islam had nothing to do with what happened one week ago,” Madjid Messaoudene, a City council member from the Paris suburb of Saint Denis, which has a significant Muslim population, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.

Madjid knew Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, and economist and journalist Bernard Maris. They were both killed along with 10 other people when gunmen shouting “Allahu Akbar” attacked the publication’s headquarters a week ago.

He is of the opinion “that drawing the Prophet would offend, would insult millions, thousands of Muslims all over the world.”

Joining in the discussion was Sara Khan, Co-Director of British NGO Inspire, who offered an opposing view.

She said she “didn’t find the image to be provocative or [that] there was an attempt by Charlie Hebdo to be provocative either,” and explained that she felt “there were three messages” the satirical magazine was conveying with its new cover.

“The first one was that we’re expressing solidarity with our murdered colleagues, the second actually was that they were actually trying to express a respectful representation of the Prophet, not in the physical sense but respectful to his teachings.”

“Many Muslims will tell you that the Prophet was a man who was regularly denigrated, mocked, humiliated, abused during his lifetime, and he responded with mercy, with compassion, above all forgiveness. So the ‘All is forgiven’ strap banner on the top of the image is for me very powerful.”

“And I think the third message of the cartoon actually showing that, it’s in defiance of the terrorists, it’s saying that rather than denigrating ordinary Muslims all across the world, we’re actually undermining the message of the terrorists by saying ‘it is you who insults the message and the teachings of the Prophet himself.’”

Depictions of the Prophet Mohammed are not banned by the Quran and the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were certainly not the first ones to arise.

“Muslim history is replete with – images, drawings of beautiful medieval paintings of the Prophet Mohammed, standing alongside Jesus, for example. Those images were there drawn by Muslims, featured in Persian and Turkish artworks," Sara Khan said.

“I think what we’re seeing actually today it’s the fact that in the last century in particular there has been a rise – an extreme and hardline interpretation of Islam, Salafism for example, which has dominated the landscape of Islam today in the modern [context].”

Madjid explained that “we can’t understand why many Muslim people in France were shocked by this cover without taking into account the context we are living in France.”

“We have widespread Islamophobia in this country, we had almost 100 – racist acts against Muslims these latest days. So we can’t make as if there was not a context that explains why Muslims feel once again insulted, this time it’s by Charlie Hebdo,” he added.

“Even if there is no strict prohibition to do it, we have to take into account the feeling of the Muslims because they are part of the population and we have to respect them.”

France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, with an estimated 4.7 million followers of the faith.
Sara Khan agreed that “many French Muslims, especially the young, feel disenfranchised, they’re experiencing discrimination,” and so in order to balance freedom of expression with faith, “this feeling of social frustration amongst Muslim youth in France needs to be addressed.”

“I agree very much that we do need to rip out politics from Islam because I think that has been one of the most poisonous things to have happened to Islam where it has become so politicized and it’s very damaging in that sense."

“And I think we also have to recognize that yes, there is freedom of expression, and there are many, many Muslims – and we’ve seen this in the Arab Spring, they died, they yearned for freedom of expression, because they knew it’s freedom of expression that protects all their other rights."

Click above to watch the full interview.

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • France • Islam • Latest Episode • Religion
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